The Ethical, Moral And Theological Imperative For Additional Needs Inclusion

Written By Mark Arnold, Additional Needs Ministry Director, Urban Saints

Around one in five young people have additional support needs of some kind; that includes the range of physical, mental, and ‘hidden’ disabilities, long term health conditions, developmental conditions, and other barriers to learning. In most cases these additional needs are lifelong, resulting in measures needing to be put in place to provide support for people with additional needs in education settings, workplaces, social environments, churches, and more.

Throughout society, we are seeing a shift in the awareness and understanding of additional needs. There is more visibility across all kinds of media of successful people who have additional needs of various kinds; any ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ followers will have delighted in the success of Rose Ayling-Ellis, who was born Deaf, and her dance partner Giovanni Pernice. There is an increasing desire to provide a level playing field that everyone, whatever they are journeying with, can access and do well on.

However, for every celebrity like Rose, there are thousands of people journeying with additional needs who don’t get the same kind of profile or support. Many of them will be University students and for many the day-to-day struggles are very real. The latest available UK data shows that 332,300 home higher education students said that they had a disability of some kind, that’s 17.3% of all home students. This number is on the rise, which at first glance could be interpreted as positive inclusion news, however digging beneath the headline figure we find that much of this rise is due to recent increases in young people and young adults reporting a mental health condition, a more worrying trend.

All students should have the support that they need to successfully study, whatever additional needs they might be journeying with. There is an important ‘fairness’ question that everyone involved in supporting students needs to ask; in what they are providing are they removing barriers to students with additional needs, or building them up? These barriers can be ‘premises’ barriers; is the building accessible, can students easily get around and use the facilities? They can be ‘programme’ barriers; can all students take part in what is being offered, are resources provided in accessible formats, are there any limitations that could exclude some students? There can also be ‘people’ barriers; are people trained in how to support students with additional needs, do they know the right language to use and have the right attitude?

What did Jesus have to say about all of this?

There are plenty of accounts in the Gospel’s of Jesus meeting people with additional needs, and in many of these encounters Jesus taught us some really important inclusion lessons too.

Take Jesus’ meeting with Bartimaeus, a man born blind, for example (Mark 10:46-52). Bartimaeus cried out to Jesus while Jesus, his disciples, and a crowd of people were walking by where he begged for a living. Those around Bartimaeus told him to be quiet and not to be a bother, an experience many people with additional needs today will sadly be all too familiar with. But Jesus heard Bartimaeus and asked Bartimaeus to come to him. The crowd gathered round excitedly, anticipating another amazing miracle, but Jesus did something unexpected first; he asked Bartimaeus what he wanted from him. The crowd must have been incredulous, they all knew what Bartimaeus wanted from Jesus, but Jesus didn’t assume, he didn’t decide on Bartimaeus’ behalf, he gave Bartimaeus the respect and dignity of being able to ask for himself. A lesson that is so important for us all to learn.

Or what about a man brought to Jesus who was Deaf and could barely speak (Mark 7:31-37). Again, Jesus showed the man dignity and respect by taking him to a quiet place, away from the crowds. Jesus knew that if he gave the man his hearing and speech in front of the crowd it would be overwhelming for the man, so in taking him to a quiet place Jesus showed great care, ensuring that the first thing that the man heard was simply the voice of Jesus… “Be opened!”

Showing dignity and respect to all people is so important, it is an ethical, moral and theological imperative, Jesus taught us that, and in doing so he showed us that everyone is loved, valued and equal. If our attitude towards everyone with additional needs is like this, then together we can positively change the world, breaking down barriers, levelling that playing field, and creating inclusion and belonging for all.

Fusion Team

The vision of Fusion is to champion and catalyse church based student movements that see the student world reached and transformed by the gospel.